Our last transparency article was in August 2019 😱 it seems it’s always easier to be transparent when everything is going great…
As a quick reminder, in October 2018 we decided to raise €1M after 1 year bootstrapping. At the time our MRR was at $ 10K with a €4M+ pre-money valuation! So our investors got 22% of the company and each of us got 26%.
The goal of this fundraising was to build a simple and easy to use attribution platform for SMBs! At the beginning, we thought it would be easy to build on top of our URL shortener embedding retargeting pixels an attribution platform! Just because the common link was the pixel (cookie)! That was our first mistake!
After raising our seed round we hired 5 full-time employees full remote, we grew from 200 to 400 paying customers. We organized a retreat for 1 month in Corsica, to motivate the troops and we worked hard on our Customer Attribution platform.
Marketing attribution is a method for letting a website owner identify and assign credit to each marketing touchpoint that leads to a conversion to their service.
Our goal was to help SMBs with a super simple platform that would let them understand what are their best sources of acquisition? What is their typical customer touchpoint before a conversion? Where did they acquire their best leads?
In October 2019, one year after raising our seed round, We were in Paris with Max, working at WeWork. Then we came to realized 2 things:
After a really long call with Max & Jérèm, we decided to let go of a part of the team 😕 (our content marketer, our customer support manager, and one of our engineers). Probably one of the most difficult days at PixelMe, and probably a very brutal decision for our employees. But thinking about it now, I am convinced that it was the best decision to save the company.
From 8 to 5 people and learning from our previous mistakes, we tried to elaborate a plan to built a new attribution product MVP (minimum viable product) as soon as possible.
At the end of November 2019, we hosted a board meeting in Montpellier (our official office) with Max, Jerem, Kamel (our partner at Serena), and I. Previous to this meeting, for 2 months, we worked hard to create our MVP and collected very valuable feedbacks. After another looooonnnnnnng chat with Max and Jerem, we decided to explain to the board that the best decision for the company was to stop working on the Attribution product, mainly for the following 3 reasons:
The board was tense but went really well and lucky for us, Kamel totally understood our decision to stop working on attribution!
During the board, Kamel said exactly this: “Ok guys, so what are we going to do next then? Pizza? “ 😂
Ok maybe before opening a Pizza place, we would like to explore a few other trends first!
Aside from PixelMe and back in August 2019, we launched a tool called Adinbox. It was a tool to alert you when one of your competitors launched an ad on Facebook. We built Adinbox as a side project marketing. Its goal was to generate leads for our attribution product! And it was an amazing product-market fit, we got +5,000 signups in one week! It all went super fast and after just a few days, It completely crashed (scrapper, server, and app).
At this time the engineering team was 100% focused on Attribution, so we decided to put Adinbox on pause.
However, after the board meeting in November 2019, we talked about Adinbox and were convinced it had a strong product-market fit. We thought it could be our next focus in addition to the PixelMe URL shortener (still live and still growing). And Kamel came across a company named Brandtotal, which was doing something similar to Adinbox and was really famous in the VC world.
Altogether we decided to build Adinbox as a proper SaaS product and add other networks. We would launch the product with paid plans to test its product Market Fit.
So we took the time to clean up PixelMe, deleted the attribution part, handled our beta testers, and build Adinbox from scratch!
In January, Adinbox went back to life again! We sent an email to our 5,000 customers and we’re very excited to welcome them back to Adinbox. We had 700 trial starts in less than 24h 🚀
But on January 11th at 12:37 AM in France (I’m was on my way to sleep..) we received an email from Facebook’s lawyers.
In short, the letter said we were violating Facebook’s terms because we obtained, stored advertisements and related information from Facebook without authorization. It was true, Adinbox was built on top of the Facebook Ad Library that we were scrapping every day and were storing all the data in a database in order to show them in our new fresh Saas Dashboard.
‘Facebook has taken technical steps to deactivate your Facebook and Instagram accounts and hereby revokes your limited license to access or use the Facebook website and services. This means that you, your agents, your employees and/or anyone acting on your behalf (collectively “You” or “Your”) are no longer authorized to access the Facebook website, use the Facebook Platform, advertise on Facebook, or use any of the services offered by Facebook for any reason whatsoever. Facebook will treat further activity by You on Facebook’s website or Platform as unauthorized access to their protected computer networks.’
During that night, Facebook blocked all our personals accounts, our ad manager, our PixelMe page and blocked our domain PixelMe.me on Facebook 😱
They gave us 48 hours to confirm that we:
We immediately shut down Adinbox! And sent an email to our lawyers BOLD! Éléonore and Arthur from BOLD were really helpful during this period and they helped us negotiate with Facebook’s lawyers.
Our goal was to obtain the reactivation of our personal accounts and unblock the PixelMe page and Ad Manager.
It took us 8 months to negotiate with Facebook’s lawyers! And in August 2020 we signed an agreement letter. We agreed, represented, and warranted that PixelMe:
Finally, all our accounts, page, etc.. were reactivated! 😍
Thanks again to the BOLD team, you did an amazing job! A few weeks ago, we knew we took the best decision ever to shut down Adinbox 😅
Facebook announcement ‘Facebook today says it has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. against two companies that had engaged in an international “data scraping” operation. The businesses named in the lawsuit are Israeli-based BrandTotal Ltd. and Unimania Inc., a business incorporated in Delaware.’ Learn more on Techcrunch.
Nobody wants a lawsuit with Facebook…right? 😉
So beginning of January 2020, our attribution product was stopped, Adinbox was blocked by Facebook, our URL shortener was still live but we knew it will never become a unicorn and the future of PixelMe was vague.
We took the difficult decision to let go of our two latest employees. We got lucky again, they were both Entrepreneurs and totally understood the reason why we had to let them go. We are still in contact and very glad to be friends with them.
End of January, 1 URL shortener, 3 co-founders and €550K left in the bank. Want to know the rest of the story? Stay tuned! It’s coming soon! 🔥